In their mid-twenties, they came up with the idea to start a bagel company, but quickly changed to ice cream when they couldn’t afford bagel equipment. They spent $5 taking an ice cream class at Penn State, invested $12,000 in their first small, dinky shop in Burlington, Vermont in 1978, and in 2000, their company, Ben & Jerry’s, sold for $325 million dollars.
How did two people, lacking both business and culinary degrees, manage to build one of the most successful ice cream companies in the world?
to analyze each of their personalities and discover where each of their natural skills lie, what their strengths as a team have been, and how their personalities helped Ben & Jerry’s succeed. Here’s how they compare:
Ben and Jerry have a lot in common, but how do their individual strengths play into the success of the sweet-tooth empire that was once just a single small ice cream shop?
Coming up with New Ideas
Ben is a skilled ideas-guy. His ability to think outside the box to come up with new ways of doing things is part of what made Ben & Jerry’s stand out so much as an ice cream company. Since Ben actually lacks a sense of smell, and by extension has a poor sense of taste, he actually pushed for the incorporation of intense flavor and texture in the ice cream. It made the ice cream more enjoyable for him and made the brand more distinctive.
Creatively Solving Problems
Ben has a natural ability to adjust quickly to new situations. This strength of taking life as it comes proved very helpful to the business. When they first started out, for example, Ben and Jerry only had $12,000 to make the business work. However, the old gas station they’d decided to build their first shop in had an old, rotting roof that needed a lot of work. So Ben
patching up the holes with whatever he could find, often including printing process materials from the local newspaper and tar.
As the roof continued to slowly decay, Ben repeatedly found little ways to temporarily fix the problem, so they didn’t have to buy a new roof before they had the money to do so. While they ultimately did end up needing to rebuild the roof, Ben’s ability to solve the problem with what they could find helped them save money in the meantime, so they were able to actually run the business. Problems like this that were resolved by Ben’s natural creativity helped the business thrive in the long-run.
Charismatically Selling to Others
Ben’s natural people-skills and charisma helped them market the company in the beginning. He handled a lot of the selling responsibilities, especially when they expanded early on into selling pints to local restaurants and grocery stores. He also had the idea to capitalize on a
article that mentioned them in 1981. The article opened with the sentence “What you must understand at the outset is that Ben & Jerry's, in Burlington, Vt., makes the best ice cream in the world.” Although it went on to discuss other incredible ice cream shops, including one that supposedly had the best ice cream “in the universe,” Ben used his creative thinking and charm to use this out-of-context quote to their advantage, pitching Ben & Jerry’s as “the best ice cream in the world”.
Directly Sharing His Thoughts
Jerry tends to be more direct than Ben. He’s comfortable sharing his thoughts when he disagrees, which has helped the pair communicate effectively. Jerry could often help reel in Ben’s big ideas by openly expressing his perspective. If he didn’t like the idea or think it’d work, he’d say so. This seemingly simple ability to share his thinking helped keep the pair more balanced. If he had kept his opinions to himself and let Ben make all of the decisions, they would’ve made very one-sided, likely rash choices.
Setting Specific Goals
As a Captain, Jerry tends to be very goal-oriented, which helped him keep the company on track as they progressed. Though his goals didn’t initially involve starting an ice cream business with Ben, he learned to realign his thinking and set his sights on a new objective. When the business began to do well, Jerry helped the team work toward each priority, whether it was staying open in the beginning, effectively selling pints to whoever would buy them, or expanding efficiently in a way that met the company’s sales and social goals.
Facing Competition Head-On
As a confident, assertive personality, Jerry tends to feel comfortable in competition. This characteristic served the team well in general, but proved especially helpful in 1984, when Häagen-Dazs, and by extension, their parent company Pillsbury, tried to force Ben & Jerry’s out of stores. The founders took action, printing the slogan “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” and an 800 number for the Doughboy Hotline on each of their pints. Jerry’s competitive nature likely helped the team push back against their competitor, which raised enough public awareness about the issue to get Pillsbury to back down and ensured that Ben & Jerry’s could be found in stores.
Ben and Jerry: Team Strengths
Taking Needed Risks
Despite their natural differences, Ben and Jerry have a lot in common. For starters, they’re both willing to take necessary risks. While Ben may be more naturally comfortable seeking out risk, Jerry was able to understand how the risks would help them reach their goals. Ultimately, their ability to take chances is what led them to start an ice cream business in the middle of Vermont, with very little background in business or ice cream in the first place.
Aiming for the Stars
They both set their goals high, as well. Rather than settling for jobs that made them unhappy, Ben delivering pottery wheels after his pottery wouldn’t sell and Jerry working as a lab technician when he failed to get in to medical school, Ben and Jerry decided to open an ice cream shop in a rundown gas station with only $12,000 to fix it all up and get started. As the business grew, so did their goals for the company. Even when they began to have personal issues with the way business was generally done, they reset their goals and built their business under the guides of what they call “caring capitalism”. They gave back to their employees in major ways, even though it may have seemed like a longshot for them to do so and remain so profitable.
Making Self-Aware Choices
Ben and Jerry also had the gift of self-awareness in common. Neither of them were good with money, since both tend to be more high-level thinkers. When they realized they needed a more experienced businessperson, they quickly hired a local nightclub owner named Fred "Chico" Lager as their first COO. By making the decision to recognize their shortcomings and bring someone else on, Ben and Jerry were able to see more steady sales and profit.
Making the Most of Your Skills
By making use of their personal strengths and learning to work well as a team, Ben and Jerry were able to achieve more than they imagined when they initially decided to open an ice cream shop. Their bold vision, creative flavor ideas, and drive for change helped them create a company that redefined how business can be done and made “Chunky Monkey” and “Cherry Garcia” known around the world.
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